Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Guru's WNBA Report: Delle Donne Makes Good on Destiny's Reservation For Her In The Pros

By Mel Greenberg

Back in in her formative years heading into Wilmington's Ursuline Academy in Delaware, the youngster Elena Delle Done with her basketball skills was drawing raves and great predictions for her future.

She was deemed capable of making an early jump to the WNBA in the manner of the consistent leaps that occur on the men's side from college and high school, though such moves are not welcomed by the women's pro league with limited exceptions.

"I was telling Pat Summitt about Elena when she was in the seventh grade," Delaware volleyball coach Bonnie Kenny, who has educational ties to Tennessee, once related.

Then after Delle Donne made powerful Connecticut the winner in the recruiting war for her prized talents but leaving campus within 48 hours never to return due to major homesickness for family and enrolling at nearby Delaware, the comments about Delle Donne all began flowing the other way.

Too soft. Not tough enough. What a waste.

Even after the year off and spending part of the time playing volleyball, where, by the way, she made the all-freshman team playing for Kenny in the Colonial Athletic Association, her return to basketball with the Blue Hens continued to draw negativity.

No value. No challenges. No passion.

Except while Delle Donne worked her way back to the promise of her younger years, Delaware women's basketball coach Tina Martin worked on building supporting pieces on the court with players and off the court with scheduling and emphasizing leadership skills.

The result has since been well chronicled -- Delaware became a nationally-ranked team, drew sellouts nightly, made it to the NCAA Sweet 16 Delle Donne's senior year when she finished as one of the all-time scorers with overall 3,000 points, even though she missed 22 games primarily due to a battle with Lyme disease and dealing with a few other nagging injuries.

"We worked a lot on leadership skills and being a team when we had to deal with Elena's health issues," Martin said earlier this summer. "And each year she became more vocal."

For those that bemoaned the loss of passion, they might have looked at Exhibit A -- Following Delle Donne's rehabilitation from the illness in the spring of 2011, she worked herself back in shape and tried out for USA Basketball's World University Team competiting against most of the top collegiate talent in the country.

Delle Donne made the squad and then was credited by many of her prestigious teammates as being the key force in winning the gold medal in China.

That was the first sign that apparently Destiny did not toss away the page with Delle Donne's name in the notebook during that fateful summer of 2008.

Of course on the other side, Connecticut did not need any sympathy for Delle Donne's departure because all the Huskies did in her absence was zip to two straight unbeaten NCAA championship and went to two more Final Fours, losing close at the finish in the semifinals to former Big East rival Notre Dame.

Still, even though ESPN made her part of the "Three To See" promotion with sister seniors Brittney Griner of Baylor, which won the 2012 title, and Skylar Diggins of Notre Dame, one got the sense that Delle Donne was given the least attention -- in part because of being at Delaware, relegated in competition speak as a Mid-Major. and networks weren't exactly sending the trucks to the Bob Carpenter Center on Delaware's campus in Newark to televise games.

No big deal, Delle Donne would say as she went about her business.

Apparently Destiny had Chicago written long in advance of Delle Donne's formal arrival to the WNBA in April when the Sky made her the overall No. 2 pick.

Seattle Storm Brian Agler one night over dinner earlier this season was whimsically looking back to a year ago when Delle Donne could have opted for the draft because her orginal enrollment class at Delaware graduated in 2012.

"Yeah, we might have had a pretty good shot at her," he said of owning a high pick courtesy of a trade Chicago made to land former UConn star Swin Cash.

"But if she was coming out, Chicago probably would not have made the trade."

Then last summer the Sky seemed ready to break their lifetime 0-for-making-the-playoffs since joining the WNBA in 2006 but Chicago went into a spiral when former Rutgers star Epiphanny Prince got injured.

Late in the season Chicago squandered leads in two games that ultimately resulted in just missing the playoffs finishing below the New York Liberty.

Destiny went back to work on lottery night when Chicago drew the second pick behind the Phoenix Mercury, whose bad deed of appearing to tank last summer was rewarded with the shot at taking Griner, considered the top prospect, though in several quarters some felt Delle Donne might be a better fit for the Mercury system.

Now the only question was would Chicago take Diggins of nearby Notre Dame for local marketing or go with Delle Donne, leaving Tulsa to grab the Irish stellar point guard.

It was never a tough choice for Sky coach Pokey Chatman, who envisioned the many options Delle Donne's skills would fit in with an already talented roster containing Prince and Olympic center Sylvia Fowles.

On draft night, as the three stars were trotted through the paces at ESPN headquarters where the draft originated in Bristol, Conn., the Guru got the sense that if the basktball on the court kicked in quickly for Delle Donne, she might be the one who would finally arrive at her day in the spotlight.

Sure enough, from the get-go Delle Donne and the Sky quickly took off.

"You know people don't understand that what they're seeing of Elena is only scratching the surface," Chatman said in a conversation back in June.

"We know how great she really can become."

Time after time the Guru has heard colleagues on press row at Chicago's games in the East ready to eat crow when saying they had not predicted Delle Donne to do this well, at least not this quick in the league.

In other cases, he's had pre-game conversations with people anxious to see Delle Donne play in person and afterwards hearing them say, she was everything they had expected.

Meanwhile, after becoming the first rookie to receive the overall top vote by the fans for the All-Star starters, misfortune struck when in the final game befure the All-Star break in Washington, Delle Donne went went down in the third quarter suffering a concussion.

But though that cost her an appearence at the game in Connecttcut, she did get a long week plus a few days off, which was helpful after coming into the league weeks after her collegiate career ended -- a move that occurs for most rookies.

Delle Donne missed a few games beccause of the injury but after being cleared to play she was a little uneven in the loss to Indiana.

However, then came last weekend when she helped zap Connecticut on the road Friday night and then had the great moments Sunday night when her trey forced overtime and then Chicago at home upset Minnesota, which holds the best record, as Delle Donne had a career-high 32 points.

The reward for the weekend was Delle Donne's third Eastern Conference player of the week from the league and she already holds one rookie of the month citation.

In Connecticut, Friday night, in the postgame lockerroom, players were no longer talking about making the playoffs, per se, but rather holding first in the East, which the Sky has never done this late in the seaason.

"We're still taking this one game at a time because anything can happen and wse've seen it happen," Fowles said.

The magic number appears to be six to reach the postseason since Chicago already holds tiebreakers over both New York and Connecticut, which are likely to take more hits than the Sky as the East down below beats each other up.

Tuesday night, the Sky begin a Western swing visiting the revived Los Angeles Sparks, whom they beat at home earlier this season.

As far as what's left the rest of the way after the Sparks' game, Chicago in its final 11 games has against the East 1 home game with Connecticut, 2 road trips to Washington, 1 home game each with New York and the defending WNBA champion Indiana Fever, 2 games home-and-home against the second-place Atlanta Dream, while the West oppositions will be a visit to the Seattle Storm, one to Minnesota, and one home game with Phoenix.

Atlanta, which is 1-7 after a hot start, has home-and--home games with a desperate Connecticut squad this week.

Unlike many rookies coming into the league, Delle Donne has said nothing has surprised her in terms of pre-conceived notions coming out of college.

That said, despite the adversity and everything else, Delle Donne is right where her original friends and family predicted she'd be a long time ago.

-- Picking Up Chatter

New York might have helped itself picking up veteran DeLisha Milton-Jones off waivers to compliment the youngsters on the Liberty.

"They might have been forced to do it because someone else was going to make that move," according to a league source.

Sounds like Washington was thinking that way.

Right now what is predictable is things will remain unpredictable judging by recent events.

Washington got battered in four games, gave up a 14-point lead at New York and then turned around, winning at Minnesota, and then beating Connecticut at home.

The Sun, after getting Rene Montgomery and Tan White back from injuries, seemed ready to make a move but then lost two straight to Chicago and Washington and are now in a must win situation with back-to-back games against Atlanta just ahead.

Los Angeles, with superstar Candace Parker missing most of the trip, recovered from a losing road start at the Tulsa Shock and then blitzed Connnecticut, Washington, Indiana and New York.

With Minnesota losing back-to-back against the two East lottery teams of last season in Washington and Chicago, there's suddenly a race in the West with Los Angeles, with Phoenix possibily making a late run after changing coaches.

Indiana, which began to get back to cohesion after being decimated by injuries, in its final ten games has a diet of West ahead visiting Phoenix, Los Angeles, Seattle, hosting San Antonio, then off to Minnesota, before finishing the East with New York home-and-home, a visit to Atlanta, a visit to Chicago, a home game with Washington, and a home-and-home with Connecticut.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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